Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Young Glendale sisters lend a helping hand

Glendale sisters Madison and Zaris Zavala with stuffed animals
Madison, 16, and Karis Zavala, 9, sit in a pile of hundreds of donated stuffed animals in their Glendale home on Monday, October 6, 2014. Madison sparked an idea, motivated by Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw’s charity “Kershaw’s Challenge,” and has set up a stuffed animal donation to collect them for emergency responders to give to small children for comfort. This is in response to an accident when Karis was 2, and she was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and was given a stuffed Lisa, from the Simpsons, that she is holding.
(Tim Berger / Staff Photographer)

There’s one thing 9-year-old Karis Zavala rarely puts down: a miniature doll of Lisa Simpson from the animated sitcom “The Simpsons.”

She’s vowed for the past seven years to never let it go.

That image popped into the head of Karis’ 16-year-old sister, Madison. Both heard Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw speak at Angelus Temple in Echo Park last month. He spoke about faith and Kershaw’s Challenge, a Christ-centered organization seeking to help those in need.

The talk gave Madison the idea to donate her stuffed toys. Karis wanted to help, fueling both sisters to aim bigger.


So, Madison turned to the “Sparr Heights Neighbors” Facebook group for help.

“I thought a few people would respond, but it turned out to be more,” she said, smiling.

Both sisters have received at least 200 new or gently used plush toys and will continue collecting until November. The donations will be given to children who experience traumatic events through the Glendale Fire Department. Any leftover will be a part of the 22nd annual Spark of Love campaign, giving toys and sporting equipment to teenagers this Christmas.

At their Glendale home Tuesday, Karis clutched her Lisa Simpson doll while lying on the couch. It’s not just a source of comfort, it’s a reminder of a life-changing incident two weeks before her second birthday.


Paramedics rushed her to the hospital. She was alone in the ambulance.

Seven years ago, the family sat on the patio area of a Valley Village market. Susan Zavala, the girls’ mother, was holding Karis in her arms when she felt a force catapult her forward. An elderly driver mistook her vehicle’s gas pedal for the brake, slamming into Karis, her father and Zavala. Paramedics calmed Karis by giving her the Lisa Simpson doll.

“I held it really tight,” Karis said. “It gave some kind of company.”

Madison was at school. Outside of her family’s lives, Madison never thought about what other good could come out of the incident until she heard Kershaw speak.

“I wanted to do some good,” Madison said.

“I want to help people,” Karis said, chiming in. “They’ve done it to me, and I want to give back.”

And the fundraiser has done more than garner donations. Elizabeth Arian, owner of Forward Fitness Studio in Montrose, has turned her business into a drop-off location for stuffed toys.


Arian’s now 14-year-old son grappled with seizures as an infant and he stopped breathing once. Paramedics arrived with haste. Days later, the same paramedics stopped by Arian’s home to check-in.

The paramedics left a toy for her son.

“When I saw (Madison) was doing something nice, how could I not help?” Arian said. “Someone was nice to us at one time. That’s what it’s all about it. Giving it forward.”

Back at the Zavala home, Madison and Karis peeked inside the full bags holding the plush toys. They showed each other pandas, puppies and a bear dressed as a witch. Karis had her Lisa Simpson doll nearby.

Zavala stood over her daughters and smiled.

“I’m very proud of them. I try to raise them to think of others and give back to the community,” Zavala said. “After everything (Karis has) been through, how she’s thriving and able to give back, it’s been very rewarding to watch.”

To donate, contact Zavala at or Arian at (818) 249-2020. Toys can also be dropped off between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday at Forward Fitness Studio, 2623 Honolulu Ave., Montrose.